World & Nation
AP The Wire
Comics & Games
Home & Garden
Advertise with the Times
McDonald voted best, strives to be even better
By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 7, 2000
Central sophomore Jane McDonald has learned a lot about her tennis game in the past year, and there's one important lesson she has figured out along the way: As good as it gets, it can always get better.
So after a season in which she entered district play with a combined 30-2 record in singles and doubles and helped the Bears go from a 3-7 mark her freshman year to a 14-2 record this spring, she's already thinking about what she can do to improve herself.
Consider this: McDonald turned 16 on Friday, and among other things, one present she's getting is a more challenging summer. She could continue playing in under-16 divisions in tournaments, but she has decided to move up to under-18 competition instead.
"When you get to 18s, the girls are really good," McDonald said. "But I want to improve my game, and this is the best way for me to do that."
Second-year Central coach Joe Nicolai said he wasn't surprised to see McDonald's success this spring, given the commitment she had shown since last year.
"She worked so hard in the off-season, making this something she's focusing on all year round," Nicolai said. "I've seen such tremendous improvement in her game, in her serve since last year, and when you see somebody working that hard on their game, anything she wins is well-deserved."
After breezing through the regular season with only one singles loss -- to Wesley Chapel's Cristina Lucin -- McDonald lost her singles matches in district and regional play. She handled the setbacks well, however. She lost to Zephyrhills' Courtney Dwyer in her first district match and to Winter Haven's Meg Tucker in the regional, then showed that singles has always been just half of her game.
Central's match with Winter Haven had a berth in the state championships on the line, and the match came down to No. 1 doubles, where McDonald and fellow sophomore Jen Ales had lost just twice all season.
Ales already had played three long sets of singles and McDonald was frustrated by a straight-sets loss to Tucker, but the two Bears leaned on each other in one of the most important (and longest) matches of Central's season.
"We went in thinking we had to get a strong start, and we led 4-1 in the first, but then it went to tiebreaker," McDonald said. "Then we were up 6-2 in the tiebreaker, but they fought back and took the set 8-6. Losing that first set was really tough."
But McDonald and Ales rallied back, taking the second set 6-2 and finishing off Winter Haven 6-3 in the final set to give the Bears a 4-3 victory and a trip to the state meet in Jacksonville.
"I was really happy we were just able to forget that first set," McDonald said. "When we had the big leads in the second and third sets, we were really scared -- I was at least -- but we held on and won. That was pretty big because it sent us to states, but on the flip side, if we had lost it would have been all our fault."
Nicolai said McDonald takes losing personally, whether it's a point, game, set or match, but he was pleased by the way she responded to post-season difficulties.
"She was really devastated by the district loss, and it was a heartbreaker," he said. "I think it was like a wake-up call for her, and she really came back with that doubles match, which went on and on and on."
McDonald can recall her initial surprise early this season at how strong a team Central had developed into. The Bears' opening match against defending district champion Zephyrhills, and her own 6-1, 6-1 victory against Dwyer, gave her a boost of confidence that carried over the entire season.
"I was quite surprised," she said. "After coming off last year, I wasn't sure what to expect. When we started off by beating the district champs, we kind of stopped and thought, "Hey, we could have a really good team here.' "
Nicolai said he would love to see the same improvement in McDonald from now to next season as he has seen in the past year, and in the least, he is sure she will give the same effort to improving herself all year round.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.